In our weekly roundup of what's worth seeing (and what isn't), Edwardian drama, tough LA cops, Nazi conspiracies and finishing our House of Cards binge.
Season finale Sunday at 8 p.m. on PBS
The final few episodes of this season of Downton Abbey are all about levity. After a devastating mid-season death, these back episodes are clearly trying to lighten the tone after so much sobriety. The solution? Add a jazz-listening, Charleston-dancing rebellious teen (Lily James) and a lively intra-estate cricket match, naturally.
Though the final few episodes do dwell on some dark moments — especially concerning the consequences Thomas’s homosexual dalliances and the estate’s financial troubles — it’s clear that the Abbey wants to jump right back into the fluffy, soapy goodness it’s known for. Indeed, it’s almost jarring how quickly Downton gets back to business as usual after such a major emotional blow.
Regardless, by the end of the finale, it seems Downton has hoisted itself out of the depths of ridiculousness that was last season, with its disfigured secret heirs, miraculously healed broken backs and devious blackmailing fiancés.
This time around, Bates has finally been released (ending the show’s most snoozy storyline), poor Ethel seems to have found her calling in journalism, Mary and Matthew are happily (if combatively) married, and the estate is well on its way to becoming profitable once again. All is well in Downton...at least until next season. B+ — Katie Stroh
Season premiere Wednesday at 9 p.m. on TNT
For four seasons, this seemingly by-the-numbers police procedural has quietly been TV’s most noir-like drama, the color washed out, with misery and contempt painted over — there’s a bleakness that hangs over these LA cops. In the premiere, Lydia (the commanding Regina King) is faced with a reluctant male rape victim; but as so many of the cases go, deception seems like the only path to justice.
If that makes the show seem too hard-boiled, that’s because it is. Even the brief moments of comic release are laced with incredulity: when Lydia’s partner observes that the new mother is lactating through her shirt, she huffs, “I swear, God must be a man.”
Season five is shaping up to be one that wears the cast down — what isn’t broken, like Sammy’s (Shawn Hatosy) marriage, is short-lived, like the halo around Ben (Ben McKenzie) after he wins an award.
But that’s what’s always set this procedural apart from its rote counterparts: It’s not only not afraid to be raw, but it’s also bold enough not to flinch. B+ — Aleksander Chan
Premieres Thursday at 7 p.m. on ABC
Nazis! This thriller starring Anthony Edwards, who looks weary and uncomfortable chasing down international terrorists out of his ER scrubs, is fraught with all the highly-serialized but dramatically tone-deaf tropes of an action-packed snoozer.
Throwing in the Third Reich and something vaguely maniacal about the church, the premiere lands with a strange anachronistic thump: This is the kind of show that got canceled very quickly six years ago.
Edwards plays the editor of a conspiracy theory magazine whose wife (Jacinda Barrett) is kidnapped after purchasing a timepiece containing mysterious, ancient secrets. He bands together with some of young and plucky reporters and the feds to track down his wife and uncover whatever Nazis evil is afoot.
The producers claim to not be making their version of The Da Vinci Code, but they’re not fooling anyone — just like the Tom Hanks movies, this mystery is too dull to bother solving. D — AC
House of Cards
Available on Netflix
Last week, I reviewed the first five episodes of Netflix's new original series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey as the conniving house majority whip Frank Underwood. Netflix released all 13 episodes simultaneously last week, allowing viewers to watch at their own pace, and certainly inviting breathless marathon-watching sessions.
It’s the first time a show has been explicitly tailor-made for this binge-style viewing, which DVRs and streaming services like Netflix had, of course, already ushered into the culture with shows previously made to be consumed week-to-week.
This week, I followed through on Netflix's model and powered through the eight remaining episodes of House of Cards in about two days. It's undeniable that, on a story level, the series is perfect for breakneck binging. That blinking red "play" button just begs to be clicked at the end of every chapter of intrigue, backstabbing, sexual power-plays and government coverups.
However, it’s still difficult to decide if this indulgent, instant satisfaction serves to make the show more thrilling in the end, or just leaves the experience an ephemeral blur. The final episode of the season ends up feeling slight and anticipatory, like a penultimate chapter rather than a season-ender; it’s unclear whether that’s due to the writing, or to its unprecedented distribution model. A- — KS
Also on this week:
Bang Goes the Theory
Premieres Monday at 9:20 p.m. on BBC America. The popular, British science show gets its American premiere.
Premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Oxygen. Fashion photographer Nigel Barker, along with models Naomi Campbell, Karoline Kurkova and Coco Rocha, work as modeling coaches for young contestants in this reality competition series.
Premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on AMC. This reality show follows former music producer Todd Ray and his family after he founds his own boardwalk freakshow in Venice Beach, CA.
Premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on AMC. A reality competition show that explores the world of animal taxidermy.
Beyoncé: Life is But a Dream
Airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO. The self-directed documentary of the pop superstar.